MASON CITY, Iowa - Mason City's long awaited multi-purpose arena at Southbridge Mall opened with great fanfare earlier this year. But the pandemic put an abrupt stop on an event-packed year.
"We just started getting going, people started getting the word out, and we were having fun," arena supervisor Lucas Hartgrove said.
Now, things are slowly picking up at the arena. Recently, ice was laid down earlier than normal, with Mason City Youth Hockey and the North Iowa Bulls' training and kid's camps being scheduled, though they are being closed off to the public.
"For the outside public, it hurts. But it allows us to control who's in here and who's out."
While the public will not be allowed on the ice for the time being, Hartgrove has seen renewed interest from area hockey teams looking for ice time.
"They couldn't believe we had ice in so early, but they also couldn't believe the size of this arena when they saw pictures and how cool it was. A lot of teams are coming down, we've got Minnesota teams coming down, we've got Iowa teams coming up. With ice being in in the summer unreal around this area, it holds a lot of potential and excitement."
As for when the Bulls will be playing games on home ice, Hartgrove says he's anticipating a season for this year at the arena.
"They've done everything as a league to go in that direction. Whether that's with fans or without fans, I am preparing to have a season. If I'm told I can only half of a percentage of fans, I'm going to make it work."
While there are no plans yet to install ice year round at the arena, Hartgrove says this year will serve as a trial run to see if it would be viable.
"Youth hockey believes they should have ice in all year. It's something to look at."
Guests who do come to the arena are required to wear masks per city policy, while they're not required to be worn while on the ice. In addition, locker rooms are being sanitized after each use.